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Represent Yourself: Family Law Courtroom Etiquette 101

By Chyanne Sharma: Vancouver Law Student, Paralegal

So, you’re litigating your own family law matter.

The Court can be tough, scary, intimidating, and isolating – particularly when opposing party has a lawyer on-side. Completing forms and having them filed with the registry may be a difficult procedure, but appearing before a judge is a whole different level of challenge. You’ll likely be nervous about what to expect and unsure of yourself in an environment built for legal professionals.

What is the conduct that will best help you and your family law case?

We’ve put together some tips to make sure you look and act the legal part.

Attire

What to wear when going to court? Going to court doesn’t mean fancy clothing – treat it as you would a job interview. Dress pants, dress shirt/blouse, dress shoes, a blazer. You want the Court to take you seriously and a professional appearance is the first step. Remove any hat and sunglasses before entering. Don’t chew gum, or bring food and drink in with you.

Etiquette

One of the more nerve-racking thoughts for a self-represented litigant is “how do I act before a judge?”. The first point to note: when a judge enters or leaves the courtroom, stand up. The perfect reminder if you forget? The registrar that sits in front of the bench – when they stand, you stand. You must also be on your feet when speaking to a judge or when the judge is speaking to you. The second point to remember: when appearing before a judge or master, they are addressed as “Your Honour” and when you appear before a Justice, the reference is “My Lord/My Lady”.

How to conduct yourself in court

Before entering the courthouse, turn off your cellphone. Be sure to bring a pen and notepad – this will help you stay focused, streamline your thoughts, and remember any questions you have about the process. When it’s your turn to speak, refer to your notes to help keep you on track. Important to mention: be in control of your emotions. Easier said than done, but your cause is much more likely aided by a demeanour that is even-keel rather than full of emotion. If you feel your emotions getting the better of you, the notebook you brought can assist – it allows you to put your feelings down on paper rather than reveal them to the Court.

Bring a Friend!

Have support on hand. Children should not be brought into the courtroom, but you can certainly bring a trusted friend or family member to lean on, especially if the circumstances of the family law matter are high-conflict.

Need more advice on self-representation in court? Book your free 20-minute consultation with a paralegal navigator at Coach My Case today to see how we can assist.